It didn’t take long for Sabanto to make its mark in the ag technology industry.
The company started building its first autonomy kit from scratch in a 3-car garage in September 2019 and just 7 months later was autonomously planting in the field.
Now it’s a drag race to the finish as Sabanto works to bring its product to the marketplace and establish a dealership network.
“Most of the candidate Sabanto dealers are preexisting precision agriculture dealers,” says Vice President of Product Cory Spaetti. “They’ve already built up their clientele, trained their service technicians and salespeople, and educated their customers about the advantages of precision agriculture.”
With a fleet of smaller 60 and 90 horsepower tractors, Sabanto has autonomously tilled, planted, seeded, weeded and mowed fields in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Texas.
Their work caught the attention of Scott Air Force Base in St. Clair County, Ill., in 2021, which led to a pivotal moment in the company’s young history.
“They discovered us on Twitter,” Spaetti says. “They noticed us autonomously planting with Kubota tractors, which they use on their base for mowing. We did a demonstration for them in May 2021, and it went really well. In September of that year, we inked a 5-phase contract to mow their fields using our autonomous technology. Everything we built for them we wanted to be able to use in agriculture.”
Sabanto closed a $17 million Series A funding round in August 2022, enabling the company to accelerate the process of making its autonomy system an “affordable, reliable and scalable solution for farmers throughout the world.”
“We started Sabanto with our sights set on fixing the lack of labor and resetting the out-of-control capital expenses in agricultural machinery,” says founder and CEO Craig Rupp. “We see a future of smarter, smaller, lighter, less expensive and more sustainable swarms of autonomous equipment, substituting horsepower and weight for time.
“We’ve assembled a team of actual ag-experienced engineers and scientists, working alongside real farmers, proving this isn’t just a thought exercise.”
With offices in Ames, Iowa and Chicago, Ill., Sabanto’s staff has grown considerably since the summer of 2022. More than 10 new employees have joined the team recently, helping fine tune the product.
“At the heart of our system is a single autonomy controller,” Spaetti says. “We’re in the middle of testing our first production-intent prototypes. The onboard autonomy controller receives mission plans from our cloud infrastructure and spits out all the commands to the tractor. The tractor can be remotely controlled. I can start the engine from my phone or computer using our mission control software.
“Some of the additional componentry we add to the vehicle would include a steering valve, an electrohydraulic remote valve, a GPS receiver, obstacle detection cameras and 2 LTE antennas.”
As Sabanto gets closer to making the system commercially available, the company is pivoting from the Farming-as-a-Service (FaaS) model and focusing more on improving its technology, according to Spaetti.
“FaaS gave us the opportunity to take our equipment into farmers’ fields and perform operations,” he says. “But we discovered that we were taking one person’s labor problem and piling it on top of our own. It stretched us a bit thin and taught us if we could do anything good for the farmer, we needed to figure out how to make our technology simple to use, cost effective and robust. We’ve taken the stance that perhaps we can be a technology provider to enable others to provide FaaS.
“In agriculture I don’t think we’re in a place where the human can be taken out of the loop. But I will say that the technology coming to the marketplace will make it easier for an operator to command multiple machines and get a lot of work done in a given day.”